Environment ministry warns against wetland degradation

Minister for Environment, Dr. Vincent Biruta, speaks to journalists during the ‘special’ Umuganda to restore wetlands in Nduba Sector yesterday. Emmanuel Ntirenganya.

Activities degrading wetlands are not acceptable, Environment Minister, Dr Vincent Biruta has said revealing that the government has embarked on a restoration campaign for threatened marshy land.

The Minister was speaking at Nduba wetland in Gasabo District on Saturday as he participated in a ‘special countrywide Umuganda’ (community service) in line with efforts to further protect Rwanda’s wetlands that organised by the Ministry of Environment and that of Lands and Forestry.

The activity was launched at National Level, in Nduba Sector, Gasabo District, yesterday.

Minister of Lands and Forestry, Francine Tumushime (R)_ and Minister Biruta (third right), and other officials join residents during Umuganda to restore wetlands in Nduba Sector on Saturday (Courtesy)

The commitment to improve the management of the country’s wetlands follows a report from the Auditor General published in May 2018 that showed one of the biggest threats to wetland conservation is irresponsible clay mining that leaves abandoned pits in these important natural ecosystems.

The special Umuganda was intended to rehabilitate marshlands which were degraded countrywide as a result of extraction of sand and clay which is used to make construction materials such as bricks.

The minister said that people who excavated such construction materials did not rehabilitate the wetlands. The created pits become container of rain water which stagnates and can accommodate mosquitoes that spread malaria, Biruta said.

“Some people have been illicitly entering the marshland and extracting sand. Activities degrading wetlands should stop,” he said.

“We have a part to play as government organs, built also, residents should not stand by as people damage the public assets like this,” he said.

“You should not act as bystanders or lend a hand to those who illegally dig out sand in wetlands, because it is likely to have long-term [negative] effects on the entire country,” he told Gasabo residents.

Residents use their hoes to refill pits that were created by clay and sand extraction, during the 'special' Umuganda to restore wetlands in Nduba Sector on Saturday, August 25, 2018 (E.Ntirenganya)

Benefits of wetland conservation

Talking about the importance of wetlands conservation, Biruta said: “They are a habitat of biodiversity, especially birds and others. They also absorb water from surrounding mountains, infiltrate into the groundwater reservoir, which makes our soil healthy, and keeps such water for future use in case of need.”

“When a wetland is degraded, it is no longer able to perform its functions of biodiversity conservation, and it is no longer able to absorb the flow of water from mountains, which results in floods,” Biruta said underscoring the need to restore them so that to better serve their purpose.

He observed that wetlands are government property, saying that people who carry out activities in marshlands should get a permit which explains what they are allowed to do, and rehabilitate the sites of their operations.

However, he said, inspecting those people so that the requirements are respected has not been effective.

Providence Musasangohe, Executive Secretary of Nduba Sector, said that some people have been secretly extracting sand during the night, revealing that the part of the marshland being restored could be used for rice cultivation by residents.

US Ambassador to Rwanda, Peter Vrooman (left) and Minister Vincent Biruta (second left), with other officials, join Nduba Sector residents in Umuganda to restore wetlands, on Saturday (E.Ntirenganya)

Rwanda has 915 wetlands, which make up close to 10% of the country’s surface area. Wetlands are a source of great natural wealth and support human life by providing and storing clean water, housing different species which protects biodiversity, and fighting the impacts of floods and droughts. They are also important for preventing erosion and retaining sediments.

38 wetlands are protected, meaning that no activities, including farming and tourism, are allowed to be carried out in them.

The remaining marshlands are used for income-generating activities such as agriculture and tourism.

Biruta said a study will be carried out to establish which ones have deteriorated, the extent of the damage, and planning for what can be done to effectively restore them.